[SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for “Nonplayer” #2, which is scheduled for release on June 3.]
Like Keyser SÃ¶ze, Nate Simpson burst onto the comic book landscape at Image Comics in 2011 with “Nonplayer” #1 and — like that — poof, he was gone. The lone issue left the Internet buzzing and garnered Simpson an Eisner Award for best newcomer. The series was optioned by Warner Bros. with David Heyman of “Harry Potter” fame set to produce. And then Simpson and “Nonplayer” disappeared. Was it the second greatest trick the devil ever pulled?
No, an unfortunate (and fortunate) series of events including a major injury and the birth of Simpson’s first child caused the four-year delay. But Image Comics recently announced that “Nonplayer” #2 will be released June 3, and a third printing of the first issue is expected even earlier, on April 1.
In speaking with CBR News, the acclaimed comic book creator said his goal is to release all seven issues of “Nonplayer” by 2020. That’s right: the series has an endgame, and is slated to be a seven-part series.
Simpson also revealed spoiler-y details about “Nonplayer” #2, hinted that the year the story is set in is part of the overall mystery and provided CBR with an exclusive first look at a climatic page from the highly anticipated issue.
CBR News: I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but the big question surrounding “Nonplayer” is the four-plus years between the first and second issue. Where have you been?
Nate Simpson: There are a lot of reasons for the delay. I had an injury right out of the gate after the first issue came out — a bike crash that broke me pretty bad for a few months. That threw me off pace. I didn’t have enough money to finish the second issue so I had to go get a day job. From then on, the work was relegated to nighttime hours. And then my son was born and there went most of the nighttime hours. There has just been a bunch of real-life that swooped in and because “Nonplayer” was never really profitable enough to be a day job, it’s always been something that I did in my spare time and my spare time just dried up.
“Nonplayer” #2 was pretty much completed between the hours of 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays. It took a little tenacity to get it done at all. It was unclear if it was going to get finished at all.
On top of that, it’s an incredibly labor-intensive project. I had very few hours to devote to it and it required a lot of man hours to complete it at the same level of quality of the first one. It was a perfect storm of stuff that was not conducive to getting it out the door very quickly.
And if anything, I felt compelled to have the second issue be even more ambitious than the first issue. I don’t know if I achieved that but I certainly swung for the fences. Sophomore efforts can be such a let-down, and I didn’t want this to be a let-down.
Can we expect a similar delay before the third issue arrives or do you have a plan in place that will allow future issues to come out more frequently?
I cannot get into specifics other than to say that there is a plan that is being discussed. My personal goal, should all the stars align, is to have all seven issues completed in the next five years. I think there is a way for this comic to come out more than once a year, which would certainly be a vast improvement over the last one. I don’t think anyone, including myself, has the patience to get through a seven-issue series at two issues per decade. [Laughs] I’ll be nearly dead by the time it’s done.
Image Comics is re-releasing “Nonplayer” #1 on April 1. For folks that don’t know what “Nonplayer” is, or quite honestly, forget in the intervening years, how would you set the stage for them?
You’re right. The best way for readers to get up-to-speed is to buy the reprint on April 1. [Laughs] But the story is about a girl named Dana Stevens, who is sort of a loser in real life. She is a tamale delivery girl by trade and she spends most of her free time inside this full-immersion, virtual reality, massively multiplayer game called “Warriors of Jarvath,” where she is super-elite assassin and she happens to be playing the game around the time that the characters in the game have achieved sentience.
And the means of that sentience are explored a little bit more in “Nonplayer” #2. She doesn’t know it yet but she is killing real people in the game. The people in the game, who were formerly inanimate characters who are now living, have no idea that there world is a playground for beings from another dimension that basically kill them for sport.
There is a great deal of potential for misunderstanding and Dana ends up killing or she thinks that she has killed Queen Fendra — who is a celebrity nonplayer character in the game — and she severely injures the king and he wants revenge. That’s the development that pushes the plot moving forward.
It’s safe to say that our tamale delivery girl-turned-super-elite assassin should be pretty worried about King Heremoth seeking revenge.
Yes. She should be very worried about King Heremoth. [Laughs] I don’t want to get into too much spoiler territory with #2 but it wraps up on an “Oh Shit!” moment for Dana.
And it also wraps with what looks to be the coming collision of two worlds.
Yes. I am trying to be fairly cagey about getting all of the chess pieces onto the board but there are a lot of characters, human and non-human, who are introduced in the second issue, as well. In the world of the future, artificial intelligence has been outlawed. And there is a special agency that has been designed to control artificial intelligence and prevent it from propagating. One of the pretensions of this world, where we have advanced technology but AI is not allowed, is that we have these robot bodies that are piloted by humans called WALDOs — and you get to see a lot of these WALDOs in the second issue — and they are not unlike the avatars the humans are driving in “Warriors of Jarvath.” In the world of Jarvath, avatars can be killed but humans can always come back. They can always re-spawn in the world of Jarvath. Well, if, theoretically, a character from Jarvath were to find their way into a WALDO, they would have a real world avatar, as well. And you could kill that avatar and it will not kill the character in the game.
I have set up this mirrored situation where we have adversaries on either side of the digital divide, each of whom both have strengths and weaknesses depending on which side of that divide that they are on. We’re setting up a big, ugly game of cat and mouse.
Another major player in this big, ugly game of cat and mouse is introduced in “Nonplayer” #2 and that’s Jeph Homer, the CEO of Lands Unlimited and the co-creator of “Warriors of Jarvath.” Who is scarier, King Heremoth or Jeph Homer?
Having worked in gaming since 1993, I have all kinds of axes to grind with people that I have encountered in the industry so I am probably erring on the side of unfairness on the way that I am portraying the people that work at Lands Unlimited but Jeph Homer is certainly not a sympathetic character.
Looking at the two names side-by-side, Heremoth and Jeph Homer look very similar. Is this a possible clue to the origin of Heremoth?
I had not thought of that. Hmm. You’re a few layers deeper into the onion than most people. [Laughs]
And what about Alan, who is the archetypal gaming character that we see portrayed in movies, TV and comics?
Yes, Alan is the lead character programmer. And he’s the reason that the characters have come to life. He’s going to play a gigantic role going forward in the series and he is absolutely based on real people that I know in the industry — right down to his questionable personal hygiene. [Laughs] But I won’t name names.
We spend less time in Jarvath in “Nonplayer” #2 than we do in #1. Will we continue to bounce back and forth between the two worlds? Or are we leaving Jarvath behind?
No, not at all. I would say that close to half of the story will still take place in Jarvath. And other parallel virtual worlds. I tried to set up in the first issue that Dana, as an example, has a gateway or a homepage that she accesses her virtual experiences. We’ll be seeing lots of other virtual places but Jarvath remains the focus. The key premise of the story is that Jarvath and our world are equally legitimate, equally real and equally alive. And playing with that idea is a lot fun.
In this issue, we also meet some of the investigators charged with policing the now-outlawed AI. And the first AI we see them investigating is a homicidal robot armed only with seafood. Will Hanley and Lee continue to serve and protect in “Nonplayer” because they made quick work of the automated swordfish thrower in “Nonplayer” #2?
Yes, Hanley and Lee play into a really big plot thread, especially Hanley. He’s a very interesting character to me because he’s the only Luddite in this hyper-advanced, augmented reality. He is very pointedly the only character that I have ever drawn in the real world that doesn’t wear an earhook. And not wearing an earhook is a big part of what helps him in the fish market situation when everyone that is wearing an earhook gets their augmented reality hacked by this rogue AI.
It’s some old character archetypes. You have a grizzled veteran and a young, new cop who is his partner. But it’s a new twist because he’s really a throwback. He’s got a haircut from the 1950s. He’s definitely modeled himself after the old school G-men. And there are reasons why he has this aversion and we’ll be getting into a little bit of his history, as well.
You mentioned the 1950s, but I don’t think you have mentioned what year “Nonplayer” is set. Is there a definitive year?
I do not explicitly state what year it is. I do know what year it is. I may reveal that at a later date but for now, I like the ambiguity of it. The mystery of what the year is a key plot point and there is a reveal coming that hinges, to some extent, on surprising people with what year it is in the future. Let’s leave it at that.
Wrapping up, earlier we discussed a plan that you have to make future issues of “Nonplayer” arrive in a more timely fashion. Have you changed your process at all in terms of style or tools?
That process has evolved over time and not always for the best. I did the first issue completely in Photoshop. I use a tablet monitor called a Cintiq. I basically draw directly on the surface of the monitor. For the second issue, for the line art, I switched over to IllustStudio, which is a Japanese program. Theoretically, IllustStudio had a lot of nice shortcuts that would help me draw faster but in the final analysis, it didn’t. Learning the new tool slowed me down and I sacrificed some line quality. There is something about the line that felt ‘deader.’ It was a cleaner line but it was also not as vibrant. I can’t believe that I’m arguing for Photoshop on the premise that it is the more analog option but it really does show just the little vibrations that your hand makes when you are making a line. And that used to drive me crazy. I worked so hard to get a clean line but it turns out that those little imperfections actually bring “Nonplayer” to life.
I did a variant cover for the “Nonplayer” #1 reprint for Third Eye Comics and it was the first, new “Nonplayer” art that I made since finishing the second issue and that variant cover was drawn completely in Photoshop and it went so fast. And it felt really good. I will probably go back to Photoshop for “Nonplayer” #3, but we’ll see.
“Nonplayer” #2 by Nate Simpson is slated for release June 3 from Image Comics. A third printing of “Nonplayer” #1 is expected April 1.
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